By Lauren Smart
By Jane R. LeBlanc
By Lauren Smart
By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
For once living up to its moniker of the "Third Coast," Dallas was Hollywood for a night. Imagine a labyrinth of swank and wanton pleasure whose seeming importance was marked by policemen directing traffic, officials shepherding "VIPs" and checking invitations, and a red-carpet entrée. Shiny and decadently colorful photographs by David LaChapelle crowded the walls of the new gallery space. For breaks in between hobnobbing and art-gazing, there was a white tent out back offering an open bar, endless hors d'oeuvres and a DJ spinning smooth and honky-tonk tunes. And, the pièce de résistance was, of course, a bona fide "superstar" wafting ambiently from room to room. As promised, the one, the only George Michael was on hand for the inauguration of Goss.
For the glitzy and moneyed, Goss Gallery on May 19 was the place to be seen. For Texas artists and the resolute habitués of the Dallas art scene, well, you'll just never know now, will you? You weren't invited. Kenny Goss--the owner and, yes, the lover of George Michael--has missed the point of Darwinism for the new millennium. In the 21st century it is only natural, well nigh evolutionary, in fact, to long for a superstar--to be one, to have one and to consume one. We all secretly hanker for a little celebrity stroke and hum. All that sneaky rubbernecking you do to see Nick and Jessica behind the tinted windows of their school bus-sized Cadillac SUV--that's just human. While practicing it himself in the most literal of terms and generously allowing the elect to join him some weeks ago, Kenny just seems to have missed the universal point. Hey, Ken: You're not the only one who likes to do it; we all do. You saw the bedazzled idol-strokers at your private party in mid-May. It's clear. We're all a little starfucker at heart.
Despite skidding onto the scene by inviting the city's nouveau riche instead of its nouveaux auteurs, Goss has something to offer Dallas and, more precisely, the artists and arty cohorts who were markedly absent from the guest list. Perhaps the most powerful of Goss' saving graces is the witting connection it has made with Andy Warhol by debuting with the works of David LaChapelle, an artist so keen on Warhol's deadpan brilliance to have left home for New York in the 1980s as a teenager in pursuit of meeting and photographing him. Equally convincing are the unwitting connections the gallery has made to the king of pop, in particular its umpteen references in the press release to the promised presence of "Super Star"(a Warholian neologism) George Michael. The Factory it is not, and this is no New York. But the attitude at Goss is right on, as theirs is a practice of frothy pink excess. Goss knows how to work Dallas, ratcheting up the stakes of Warhol's philosophy of "yes" for the 21st century--pushing those 15 minutes of stardom once allotted by the king himself into an altogether new space-time continuum. Ultimately, though, it's unclear whether those running Goss seek to be as garish as they actually are. Was the scene at Goss impish--chic in its very insipidness--or just another instance of accidental Dallas eccentricity?
While those at Goss verge on being irony-challenged, prettily feigned smiles and pink subterfuge are the fuel of David LaChapelle's artistic fire. In keeping with pop artists past, his palette is made up of bright, zappy colors. Dominated by reds, yellows and oranges, "Hamburger Beverly Hills" (2001) shows a bikini-clad high-heeled model wrestling with an enormous inflated hamburger. Also cast in bright hues of red is the shiny print titled "Got Crabs," showing a large inflatable crab in a pool and the long lanky legs of a toppled model in a red dress. LaChapelle understands well the central potency of popular culture: that it is the embodiment of consumerist desire. At the core of our cup-runneth-over capitalism he finds endless want.
LaChapelle strikes an attitude that is in keeping with the irony of the Japanese sculptor-cum-conceptual artist Takashi Murakami. Like Murakami, who has overlain the "elegance" of Louis Vuitton's brand with stock characters from Japanese manga (comic books), LaChapelle makes lush beauty out of tawdry Hollywood culture. He woos his viewers and models through the practice of teasing, quietly poking fun at celebrity culture through the sheen of bright color and glossy light. His is a game of mocking the beautiful that makes stars more gorgeous than they are. A master of Hollywood glitz, LaChapelle regularly photographs celebrities for magazine layouts and covers and directs MTV videos and commercials (the most recent of which has an African-American cowboy strumming a guitar and singing in homage to Burger King while buxom, gingham-clad Hee Haw girls swing and frolic in the background à la Russ Meyer soft porn). Needless to say, his work rides a fine line between art and advertising.
"Paris Hilton on the Beach, L.A." (2000) shows a bevy of young, taut surfers surrounding a lackadaisical Paris Hilton, who lies on the wet sand, one breast showing and surrounded by soaked $100 bills. In "Britney Spears with Hot Dog (MTV)," one finds Ms. Spears with edible phallus in hand surrounded by a soft halo-like glow of glistening light and children playing in an open hydrant on a New York street. That his images work notably without depth of meaning underscores the fact that Hollywood is bountifully smoke and mirrors, that beauty is only skin-deep and truth slips and slides about on the surface of so many screens. He has transformed the act of taunting into a hedonistic experience, turning our personal love of celebrity-gawking and gossip into a productive image mill. The photos shove the shallowness of that culture, and the triteness of our love for it, back in our face with the most delicate ease. There is pleasure for all involved--the subjects of his photos, the audience of viewers and the artist at work.
The most intellectually provocative images are the gender-benders. His muse and model of choice in these photos is he-woman Amanda Lepore. In what is perhaps the most striking piece of all, "Amanda," LaChapelle photographs Lepore as Marilyn according to Warhol; that is, Marilyn Monroe based on one of Warhol's silkscreens made just after her suicide in the early 1960s. There are skid marks on the side of Lepore-Marilyn's face, suggesting that her face has been dragged down the side of a highway.
LaChapelle's imagination abounds with endless energy in these photographs. Surface play though they may be, these glossy images cut to the core of what it means to be a glassy-eyed consumer-citizen standing in wonderment before the powerful flatness of celebrity spectacle.